Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.
Considering that St. James saith, 'The Scripture speaketh nothing in vain' and that as our Saviour Christ saith, 'No Scripture can be disappointed,' it may seem strange that the devil coming armed with 'the sword of the Spirit'--for so is the word of God termed--Christ gives not place, but opposeth Himself to answer. We see that a message coming in the name of the Lord, this very name abashed Nehemias at the first hearing, till he perceived it was contrary to the law of God, and so came not from Him. Which here we see to be the cause, why Christ doth not yield by and by upon the hearing of the word, but set Himself to make answer; for so much as the word is not of force quia dicitur only, but quia creditur, as Augustine noteth. If here be not the mixturer of 'faith' with it, whereof Paul speaketh, it is nothing worth. And therefore the bad spirit was nothing abashed or daunted at the hearing of the bare names of Jesus and Paul, but [525/526] answered, 'I know them, but who are ye?' They did not believe, and therefore could do them no good, but were wounded themselves; glorious names would not serve the turn. So was it here used without faith.
When the Scripture is here urged against one, a man would think it were not to be answered by citing another place of Scripture, but by some 'tradition of the elders,' or some gloss or other shift: but we see our Saviour answereth here, no way but by Scripture.
Because the wolf comes sometimes disguised in a sheep's skin, it is no reason that therefore the very sheep should lay away their fleeces. So here, because the devil useth the word as 'the slaying letter,' or as the sword to kill men with, it is no reason why Christ may not therefore use it in His own defence. Why, then, will some say, one of these two inconveniences will follow, that hereby we shall think the Scripture is of the devil's side, as well as of Christ's side, and so divided; as in like sort they make a division of Christ, when one holds with Paul, another with Apollos. No, it is not so, Christ allegeth not this Scripture in that sort, as one nail to drive out another; but by way of harmony and exposition, that the one may make plain the meaning of the other. For albeit the devil sheweth himself to be the devil in citing that text so as might best serve for his purpose, in that whereas the Psalm whereout he taketh it hath it thus, 'That He might keep Him in all His ways;' which words he leaveth out. For if he had cited that, he could not thereby have enforce any casting down. For the Angels have no charge over a man, but in his ways; and from the top of the pinnacle there was no way, but down the stairs on his feet. He was not, relying on the Angels, to cast Himself down with his head forward. But the devil hath a wrest to make the string sound high or low as he list; or if that will not serve, he hath a rack to stretch them out, as some did St. Paul Epistles. He can set them on the tenters, to prove that down the stairs or over the battlements all is one, the Angels shall safeguard him.
Though this I say, be the devil's corruption, which the late writers have well spied, yet Christ we see is not willing to take advantage of that, but useth a wiser course (for so are we to think that He went the best way to work) that is, the [526/527] conference of Scripture with Scripture which Christ here practiseth, and commendeth unto us.
In every art all propositions are not of a like certainty, but some be grounds and principles so certain as that no exception is to be taken against them. From them are others derived by a consequence called deduction, not so certain as the other: from these again others, to the twentieth hand. So is it in divinity. Christ here reduceth the devil's argument and place to a place most plain to be confessed, For the Jews, valuing of the means, had to consider that God 'fed them with manna which they knew not,' to teach them that 'Man liveth not by bread only,' contemning the same; in Deuteronomy the sixth chapter and sixteenth verse bade them, 'they should not tempt the Lord their God, as in Massah,' when they cried for bread. The Lord curseth him, 'that maketh flesh his arm, and withdraweth his heart from God.' They 'sacrificed until their yarn, because their portion was plentiful.' Job condemneth the making 'gold our hope,' or 'the wedge of gold our confidence.' As then we must not deify the means, attributing all-sufficiency to them, so we may not nullify them and think too basely of them, but use them that we tempt not God according to His word.
Out of these two grounds may every question be resolved, for every proposition must be proved out of the ground. So that, as we may not think the arm of God to be so shortened that He cannot help without means, so are we not to think basely of God for ordaining means.
Secondly, we heard that the devil's allegation was taken out of the Psalm, and one of the most comfortable places of all the Psalm. Christ, by not standing in disputation about the words and meaning of the text, commendeth to us the safest and wisest way to make answer in such like cases. Our Savour would warn us, that the ninety-first Psalm is not fit matter for us to study on when we are on the top of the pinnacle; He therefore chooseth a place of contrary kind, to counterpoise Himself standing in that fickle place.
The Law, we know, is a great cooler to presumption. If one tamper much with the Psalms, being in case of confidence, he may make the fire too big. Faith is the fire which Christ came to put on the earth, and it is seated between two [527/528] extremes, distrust and presumption. Distrust is as water to it, which if it be poured on in abundance, it will make it to be smoking flax, or utterly quench it. Presumption, on the other side, is as gunpowder to it, which being thrown into it, it will blow it up, and make it fly all about the house. Christ was to take heed of overheating his faith. Luther upon Galatians saith, the ninety-first Psalm is no meet study for many men's humours in our days; they had more need of a corrosive, to eat out the sore from the root and bottom.
Now to the answer, which consisteth of six points. First, what it is to tempt God; secondly, wherein; thirdly, the manner how; fourthly, this proposition, 'Thou shalt not tempt;' fifthly, the reason why we may not; sixthly, though He be our God, and we on the pinnacle, these be no arguments for us to presume.
1. First, whosoever will not use such ordinary means as God hath appointed, tempteth God if he use extraordinary, as here the devil would have Christ do: when nobody went about to thrust Him down, wilfully to have cast Himself down were great madness. Or, when a man hath a fair pair of stairs to go down by, to call for 'a cherub' to carry him, or for 'the wind' to fly down, were as great wantonness.
There is an humour in man that we are all given unto by nature to be marvellously desirous to try conclusions in matters that are rare and unknown unto them; contemning things common, and to be found after strange novelties. It was told them as plain as could be, that they should not reserve of the manna till morning, and they needed not to have reserved it, they had fresh every day; and yet forsooth they would needs keep it, if it were but for an experiment sake, to try whether it would stink or no. And though they were forbidden to gather on the Sabbath day, and on the even had enough for two days, and it told them they should find none, yet they must needs try. When a thing cannot be had without great difficulty, it is our manner to have a vehement longing after it; as when David was in a hold, and the garrisons of the Philistines were in Bethlehem, then being thirsty no water would serve his turn but that in Bethlehem. But when three mighty men had broken into [528/529] the host of the Philistines, and had brought him of it, he cared not for it.
II. For the second we are to know, that where need is,--as the heathen speaketh--there a man may commit himself to the providence of God, and rely upon him. For we have heard that where the means fail is, God hath yet in store His four prerogatives. Therefore when it comes to a dead lift, as we say, then to have a strong confidence in God is thankworthy; and it is the practice and property of faith to say boldly with Abraham when he saw nothing present, that even 'on the hill God will provide.' When our enemies are behind us and the Red Sea before us, then to look for a way through the sea, and to expect manna out of heaven, and water out of the rock is much worth. So our Saviour, when He and His company were in the desert where no meat was to be had, fed them miraculously; but being near to the town where they might have it, He dismissed them. When Elias was in distress, and all meats failed him, then the Angel brought him meat. When Hagar and Ishmael were in the wilderness, and the water in the bottle spent, and she in great heaviness, the God comforted her from heaven. When the Israelites were in the desert, then they had 'an Angel' to lead them. When Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, were cast bounded into the fiery furnace, then God sent them an Angel to be their deliverer. And so when Daniel was thrown into the lions' den--not when he put himself in. 'God sent his Angel to stop the lions' mouth.' When we are deserti in deserto, and all means fail, it is time to trust in God, as Job did.
Our 'conversation' therefore must be 'without covetousness, and we must be content with those things that we have;' for He hath said, 'He will not fail, us, nor forsake us.' This is out of the compass of tempting God, and this is as much as the Psalm could warrant Him to look for. Look upon it, and you shall see that it expresseth such dangers as could not be prevented by man's care and industry: as, 'from the snare of the hunter,' whom useth to lay it so as we cannot see it to avoid it. 'Thou shalt not fear the arrow that flieth by day.' An arrow, we know, will reach a man far off, before he be aware. And so, through the Psalm, they are things out of [529/530] our defence, therefore they had need of Angels' help; but when we have means to help ourselves, God's omnipotency is for the time discharged. Eutychus, that fell out of the window by a heaviness of sleep, was restored to life by Paul. This then is Christ's answer. If there were no stairs and He must needs go down, it were a good Scripture to meditate on.
III. Thirdly, as it is a point of God's power to help without means, so hath He in his wisdom appointed means; there be degrees whereby we ascend to the effect, they are as a pair of stairs. Where these are we must use them, but when He offereth us a strange sign, it is scrupulous and foolish niceness to refuse it. As when God bade Ahaz 'ask a sign,' and he would not for tempting God, he was too precise, he was but a hypocrite. Moses asked a sign and had it, and God was well pleased with it. And so did Gideon also, to assure himself of delivering Israel by him.
In great, weighty and extraordinary callings, it was allowable to request a sign: but when there is no need, or when there be otherwise sufficient, as Matthew the sixteenth chapter and first verse, where many miracles were daily done before their eyes, and where--though they had never so many more--yet they would not have believed on Him. Such were the Scribes and Pharisees, that for every trifling occasion must have 'a sign from heaven.' Thus to grate upon God's omnipotent providence, is saucy malapertness. For ordinary matters there be ordinary means to serve our turns; and for extraordinary there be extraordinary ways and means reserved, that we need not let fall our trust in matter corporal. We all confess there be means, as they which 'will not work may not eat.' In warfare there is no victory to be hoped for without fight, building of rampiers, and making of darts and shields: only in spiritual matters we think to do well enough, though we never put to our endeavour; we lay all upon God, and trouble not ourselves.
There is but one degree or step in all Christianity; it is no more but out of the font to leap straight into heaven; from predestination we leap straight to glorification, it is no matter for mortification, there be no such mean degrees. But St. Paul tells us, it is so high that we had need of a ladder in which be many steps; insomuch as he puts a 'How shall' to [530/531] every step. 'How shall they call on God Whom they have not believed?' There must be calling on God, believing on Him, hearing His word. There must be ordinary means, and there is a ladder of practice as well as of speculation or contemplation. 'Join virtue with your faith, and with virtue knowledge, and with knowledge temperance; and so patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love. For if these things be in you, you shall not be idle and fruitless in the knowledge of Christ:' for he that hath not these things is blind, he goeth blindfold to the wood, and may chance hap beside heaven, or steps besides the ladder. A great many say as Balaam did, 'O let my soul die the death of the righteous;' but they care not for living the life of the righteous. He went but blindfold, he knew not the Angel that stood with a sword drawn in the way, but would have gone upon it if his ass had been so foolish. A great many think that presumption in being secure of their salvation is good divinity. Balaam thought he went well, when he went on the point of a naked sword. So one enticed by the flattery of a harlot think he goes to a place of great pleasure, but he goeth as one that 'goeth to the slaughter, and as a fool to the stocks.' Those whom it pleaseth God to have partakers of His kingdom, He puts them in mind 'to remember their Creator in the days of their youth, before the evil days come.' He giveth the grace of timely repentance, and suffereth them not to defer it till the last cast, and then to think that with the turning of a pin, as it were, they shall with a trice be in heaven, with Elias in a whirlwind. Augustine saith 'We may in some cases advise men to have great hope that they shall be saved, but in no case give them warrant of security.' So in Ephesians, the fifth chapter and fifth verse, 'This we know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of heaven.' 'Let no man deceive you through vain words: he that doth righteousness is righteous, and he that doth unrighteousness, is of the devil.'
Now therefore, to neglect the hearing of the word, or when he cometh to hear it to clap down in his place without desire or mind to bear it away, thereby to be bettered in his life; and without purpose after by meditating on it to chew it, and [531/532] so to kindle a fire within himself whereby it may be digested and turned into the substance of the mind; this is to tempt God. So also, to bear a greater countenance, and make more show of holiness than indeed is in one, is to lay a greater 'yoke' on himself than he need; as Acts the fifteenth chapter and tenth verse, is a tempting of God. Again, he that sinneth must look for evil to follow. He therefore that sinneth, and yet thinketh to escape punishment, tempteth God.
They that by often experience have found that such and such things have been to them occasions of sinning, and yet will presume to use the same again, tempt God; and those which 'set up their idols in their heart, and put the stumbling-block of iniquity before their face,' and think not they sin, such tempt God. He that comes to ask forgiveness of God, and will not perform the condition of the Lord's prayer, that is, forgive others, tempts God. Generally, he that seeketh for good of God, and will not perform that which he is to do; or doth evil, thinking to escape scot-free, without endeavouring to avoid or resist it, both these tempt God. And to these two may all others be referred.
IV. The fourth is, we must not at all tempt God at no hand; we must not think but God is able to bring water even out of a rock, when there is nothing but rocks and stones; but when we may hope to find it, we must dig for it. So, when the soil will bear corn, we must till it. When Elisha was in a little village, not able to defend him from the Assyrians, he had 'chariots and hordes of fire' to defend him; but when he was in Samaria, a strong walled city, then when the king of Israel sent to fetch his head, he said to those which were with him, 'Shut the door.' Christ in the wilderness miraculously fed many; in the city He sent 'His disciples to buy meat,' as John the fourth chapter and eighth verse.
In the beginning, when the Gospel was published, there wanted sufficient men for the purpose; the Apostles had the power, as appeareth from Acts the eighth chapter and nineteenth verse, that on whomsoever they laid hands he received 'the Holy Ghost' and was straight able and meet to preach the Gospel: but after, every man to his study, 'These things exercise,' &c. We that notwithstanding Paul was told by an Angel that there should be no loss of any man's life in the [532/533] ship, yet he caused the mariners to 'cut the ropes' and to cast anchor; nay, when some would have gone out by boat, he would not let them. So here Christ answereth that howsoever Angels attend on him He may not tempt God.
V. Now follow the reasons why we may not tempt God. There be two sorts of tempting; the one by ignorance, the other by unbelief. It is the manner of chirurgeons, when they are to dress a wound, and know not how far nor which way it goeth, to tent it. In the same manner is God, after the manner of men, said to tempt us: sometimes 'to prove what is in our hearts, and whether we will keep his commandments,' as He did the Israelites forty years. To this end He both made them hungry, and fed them with manna. We sometimes tempt God as if the arm of His power had received a wound, or His eye a hurt, as if He could not help, or discern our wants as well as before, because He brings us not 'water out of the rock.' But such miracles now are not agreeing with His will, which must content us. 'He will have mercy on whom He will have mercy.' And we must not 'despise the riches of His bounteousness, and patience, and long-suffering, which leadeth to repentance.' 'The Lord's hand is not shortened that He cannot save, nor His ear heavy that it cannot hear;' because He doth not reprove us, 'we think Him like us.' When God holds his peace, we think His tongue cut; But I will not always hold My peace, saith God. But 'how shall I know this,' say men now- a-days? as Zacharias knew his wife was with child, who, when he would not believe the Angel that told him so but would needs have a sign, was stricken dumb. 'Behold thou shalt be dumb till the day.' Here is sign for incredulity; he had been as good have believed without a sign.
The second kind of tempting proceedeth of over-much familiarity, when as we think we may be bold with God, and that He will take it in good part, and therefore we will put Him to it, as we say; we will try both him and His Angels, what metal is in them and what they can do. We are to think upon the name of God as of a heavy and weighty thing, that is not upon every small occasion to be taken up and removed. We are not to account it as feather that we may [533/534] lightly toss up and down at our pleasure; and even so are we to esteem of the mercy of God. It is not to be advocated upon every vain trifle, for that were to use God as we are wont to use our jugglers. Come on, let us see what you can do, shew us a miracle, say they. So Herod, 'desired to see,' Christ that he might see 'some miracle' of Him, as in Luke the twenty-third chapter and eighth verse. It is a heavy case when men stand thus affected toward God, when afterwards in Luke the twenty-second and sixty-fourth verse, they blindfolded Him and bade Him read who struck Him. We ourselves would not be so used, we could not endure to see our friends used so. How much less ought we to use God in that manner! especially that attribute, quality, or property of God, which of all others He would have to be the most magnified, that is, His mercy!
He must needs take it very heinously to see that abused since of all the rest He makes most account of it. Howsoever He could be content to 'serve' yet would He not be a servant to our `sins' in any case, especially not to be made pack-horse, if I may say so, for our sins to load on even till his His back ache, He saith, that He 'is pressed under us, as a cart is pressed that is under sheaves.' Let us not make a dungcart of God's mercy, let us forbear Him that service of all other.
VI. The sixth is, that none of these Dominum Deum tuum, neither Lord nor God, nor that He is thine, are fit arguments to prove that we may presume upon Him. The devil belike had perceived that there was some acquaintance between Christ and God, and peradventure had said unto Him, You may be bold with him and with His Angels. What? He is your Father, and as Cæsar's, daughter answered that though he forget himself to be Cæsar, yet do not You forget to be His Son. No, saith Christ, these be no good arguments to make one presume. As for Dominus, we will all grant I am sure there is small matter of presumption in that. In Deus there may be some more colour, but yet very little. It is no good dealing with one that is mightier than ourselves, lest he happen not to take it in good part, but fall to earnest and so we feel the smart. We were not best to make sport with Samson, lest he pull the house about our ears and so make us pay dearly for our pastimes. Paul saith, 'Do we provoke [534/535] the Lord to anger? Are we stronger than He?' If we will needs tempt, we were best tempt with our matches. There is no dealing with fire, for it will burn all that toucheth it: his Angels and 'ministers' are 'a flame of fire:' but Hebrews the twelfth chapter and twenty-ninth verse it is said, 'Our God is even a consuming fire.' Indeed, if He were like Dagon, the Philstine's god, He might be set up and taken down, and we might break His neck and hands at our pleasure; but being the strong and mighty God of Hosts, we were best take heed how we deal with Him.
Tuum what say we to that? An ungracious child might make than an argument of presumption, but whosoever is of a good nature will make it an argument of the contrary. Isaac was Jacob's father, but was Jacob more bold to abuse him for that? No, but rather more timorous. 'My father,' saith he 'may chance feel me, and so I shall seem to him a mocker, and so bring a curse on me, and not a blessing'. Is God merciful? Yea, truly, 'mercy is with Thee, but that Thou mayest be feared;' we may not abuse His mercy, as to 'sin that grace may abound.' Is he bountiful and long suffering? We must therefore the more fear to displease Him. When the Pharisees tempted Him, and would adventure their souls in seeking a sign, it is said, 'Christ sighed.' And why did he sigh? Because God 'sware in His wrath that they should never enter into His rest,' whose fathers tempted Him in the wilderness. What rest? He doth not mean the rest in the land of Canaan only, but that which shall be in the kingdom of God.
These two temptations of the devil may fitly be compared to those two rocks between which Jonathon was to pass, which are said to be 'sharp.' One is called 'Bozez' which signifieth dirt; the other 'Seneh,' which signifieth a bramble, or some sharp prick; between which, and his armour-bearer were fain to clamber up. Between two such rocks lieth our way, that is presumption and desperation: therefore blessed is he that so loveth God, that he can be content to creep on hands and feet to him.